SAHARANPUR: Dalit organisations are meeting to plan a major stir following the Saharanpur violence where a clash between Thakurs and Dalits has created tensions across western Uttar Pradesh. A young leader of one of the several Bhim Sena’s confirmed this over the phone, even as he kept saying he could not answer any questions about Saharanpur as “I am not allowed to, we have all decided not to speak to the media.” He described himself as the president of ‘Bhim Sena’ and like most youth today was clearly active on Facebook that he referred to during the conversation.

Mayawati, in fact, has been barely active in Saharanpur in the grip of tension now for at least three weeks. As the local Congress MLA Masood Akhtar told The Citizen, three major incidents have already taken place since April 20 when Saharanpur Member of Parliament Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma reportedly started it all by taking out an Ambedkar Shobha Yatra. Akhtar said that the district administration slept through it all, despite the increasing tension over this move, and it was only when the yatra was well inside the gullies that the authorities moved to check it. But it was too late and violence engulfed the city.

Since then there have been two more clashes, one with the upper castes insisting on a Maharana Pratap shobha yatra where one person was killed and several Dalits sustained injuries. And then again when the Dalits jammed the roads in protest. An effort by them to hold a mahapanchayat was predictably stopped by the authorities, with a virtual stampede reported from the spot.

Mayawati has indulged in her usual rhetoric, but this time around it was the young Dalits on the ground who provided the leadership and demonstrated mobilising capabilities. As Jignesh Mewani who had led a mass stir of Dalits and others in Gujarat to protest against the Una incident where youth were stripped and flogged publicly agreed that Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj party was fast losing the plot. And she was not being seen as a politician who could lead the Dalits out of continued, and increasingly aggressive discrimination. But as Mewani pointed out, “this struggle needs the support of all, it has to be inclusive, and cannot just comprise those who are being targeted currently, namely the Muslims and the Dalits.”

Saharanpur has been witness to caste tension over the years. In fact in western UP the Dalits have faced the brunt of upper caste ire, with discrimination and atrocities rampant across the villages. This is a first in recent memory here, that the Dalits have retaliated and made it apparent that they were not going to stand by as mute spectators. Interestingly, initially the administration arrested more Dalits than Thakurs, although now according to local MLAs the upper castes seen as responsible for the violence have also been detained.

A name that all are conversant with now in Saharanpur is that of a young man Chandrashekhar who is from what locals call the Bhim Army. Chandrashekhar played a major role in ensuring that the Dalits did not take the humiliation lying down, as has been the wont of this marginalised community in the past. The threats, the abuse, that this writer has been witness to in the towns of western UP in the past, clearly were unable to intimidate the Dalits in the same manner as before. As the locals said, “being in power the BJP MP and others thought they could do anything they wanted, and did not need to follow any law.” Chandrashekhar who is now being hunted by the local administration, is absconding. He has become a hero amongst the Dalits and others in the area already.

Mayawati has blamed her defeat in UP to the EVMs but as Mewani said she has been unable to stand up against this “brazen and blatant” assault on the Dalits. She has been unable to build on the BSP established by her mentor and the far more flexible Kanshi Ram, with the party becoming unresponsive in the process. Mayawati’s style of functioning has remained authoritarian and inaccesible, an approach that is not acceptable to the younger Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. The language of the younger local leaders who seem to be emerging faster than in other communities, for instance the Muslims, is more direct, more appealing and fearless. Besides, as a former legislator from Saharanpur who was earlier with the Congress pointed out, “we tend to forget that the young Dalit too has aspirations and does not see Mayawati in a position to answer these.”